Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
This week, Registered Dietitian Rebecca Subbiah offers advice on how to ensure a balanced, nutritious vegetarian diet for your toddler.
Question: My child is on a vegetarian diet. How can I ensure he is getting proper nutrition? Should I give him any supplements?
It is very possible for a toddler to follow a vegetarian diet along with the family, as long as it’s well balanced and varied to ensure nutritional adequacy.
Toddlers have unique nutritional needs based on their age and growth, needing between 1000-1400kcal a day, 3 -4 servings of grains, such as a slice of bread, ½ a cup of pasta, half of the servings coming from whole grains. A vegetarian diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables of all the colors of the rainbow in order to get the range of vitamin’s and minerals. Aim for 1-2 cups of vegetables a day and 1-2 cups of fruit per day.
In regard to dairy, aim for 2 cups of milk a day, full fat for the first few years, cheese and yogurt to meet calcium and vitamin D requirements for growing bones. Toddlers between the ages of 2-4 need 500mg of calcium and 400IU of vitamin D. If your child cannot tolerate dairy use calcium fortified cereal and soy products, some orange juice is also fortified with calcium.
A nutrient of concern in a vegetarian diet is iron as the most easily absorbed sources come from meat. Toddlers need 7mg of iron a day, especially after one year as their stores are depleted. Ensure your toddler doesn’t fill up on drinking too much milk and eats well at meal times. Provide iron fortified grains, tofu and beans. With meals serve them along with vitamin C rich foods, such as orange juice, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes as vitamin C aids iron absorption.
It is also important to eat good sources of protein such as lentils, beans and pulses. Offer your toddler 3-4 servings of protein a day with a serving being ¼ cup of cooked dry beans, or one egg. Look up recipes from around the globe for inspiration particularly in countries that are predominantly vegetarian such as India. You will find a wealth of recipe ideas with dals using lentils, dishes like pongal that combine rice and lentils and many dishes for beans and wonderful ways to cook vegetables.
In Middle Eastern cuisine you will find hummus and falafel. Of course stir-fries are wonderful with vegetables and egg for protein, also vegetable fried rice. Pasta dishes also lend well to vegetarian options and pasta comes in such fun shapes and colors that kids adore.
Here is a simple vegetarian recipe you can try:
- Mong dal 1/3 cup
- Rice 1 cup
- Cut ginger
- Coriander leaves
- Curry leaves
1. lightly roast the mong dal
2. add rice and dal to pressure cooker with 4 cups of water and let the whistle go 2 times
3. then simmer for 5 minutes
4. heat oil or ghee and add spices, curry leaves and salt then add to the pongal
This is a easy and tasty traditional South Indian dish actually eaten on Pongal Harvest Festival in January. It is great eaten with spinach dal.
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Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on Littlestomaks.com is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by Littlestomaks.com.